Hi, my name is Melissa and I’m completely hopeless at art. Like, incredibly hopeless. To give you an idea, to get my required art credit in high school, I convinced my principal that Yearbook was a reasonable substitute for Art class. So yeah, I pretty much suck and know nothing about it.
I recently spent some time in Florence, Italy, and felt woefully unprepared to take on all of the art history this city has to offer. If you’re anything like me and somehow slipped through school without taking a single art class, I prepared a cheat sheet of the main artistic attractions in Florence. Happy travels, and until you make it as an art expert, go ahead and fake it with this guide!
Located in Italy’s Tuscany region, the riverside city of Florence is widely recognized as the birthplace of the Renaissance and stronghold of some of the most admired masterpieces of art. For centuries, Florence (Firenze) has drawn crowds of tourists eager to feast on the wealth of artistic treasures, from Michelangelo to Botticelli to Raphael. Read on for my top highlights, and what qualify as “must-sees” while you’re in town.
Summary: The Uffizi Gallery is the largest, most prominent Florentine art museum with artistic masterpieces spread throughout 45 halls and over two floors of the palace (aka a boatload of art).
What to See:
- Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus
- Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels
- Titian’s Venus of Urbino
- Caravaggio’s Bacchus
Tip: If you’re planning a visit during high season, book a tour ahead of time. Waits can range upwards of five hours in the heat of summer. It gets incredibly hot there, trust me, you do not want to experience this. Just spend a few Euros and save yourself the misery.
Pitti Palace & Boboli Gardens
Summary: From Florence’s city center, stroll over the Ponte Vecchio and you will find yourself at the Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace). The Palace houses a collection of sculptures, paintings, silver, porcelain, and costumes from the Renaissance period.
What to See:
- Boboli Gardens – The Gardens showcase the classical Italian style with manicured lawns, statues, and towering hedges. Take a walk up to the top to view a sweeping panorama of Florence and the Tuscan countryside (photo ops!)
- The Costume Museum – The gallery displays clothing styles from as far back as 1600. It’s pretty cool to see how styles evolved over the years and the lengths people went to to be considered fashionable (and also something a non-artsy person can appreciate, yay!)
- Silver Museum (Medici Treasury) – Home to treasures ranging from a golden ‘blouse’ to a Cartier diamond and amethyst tiara to 15th century mother-of-pearl pieces, the gallery boasts some of the most unique precious objects from the ages past (aka glittery, expensive stuff that I’m all about).
Tip: There are numerous museums within the Pitti Palace. Do some research ahead of time on which museums you’d like to visit and choose your ticket wisely.
Summary: Accademia is the second most visited museum in Florence, Italy after the Uffizi. It’s relatively small, and the primary reason tourists flock here is to see Michelangelo’s Statue of David. (I said primary to be nice—David was honestly the only reason to go inside.)
What to See:
- Michelangelo’s statue of David – This 17ft tall marble sculpture of the biblical hero is displayed prominently in the Accademia. It is positioned so that you can view it from 360 degrees.
Tip: If you’re planning to visit in the summer, buy a skip the line pass. I promise you, it will be 100% worth it to walk by everyone else enduring the sweltering heat.
Summary: The Palazzo Vecchio is the original Florentine town hall, and is adorned with timeless frescoes and gilded ceilings. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, the former home of the powerful Medicis allows you to experience centuries of precious art.
What to See:
- Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the 500) – The largest room in the palace features golden decoration, large wall frescoes, and striking statues. It was originally built to house the Grand Council for the Republic, which consisted of 500 members, but later converted into a boardroom for the Medicis.
- Cortile di Michelozzo (Inner Courtyard) – Designed by Michelozzo, the first courtyard shows off its decorative fountain, Austrian frescoes, and Florentine crests.
- The Apartments of Eleonora de Toledo – These private rooms offer a glimpse into how the ruling class lived in centuries past.
Tip: The Palazzo Vecchio is home to dozens of hidden chambers and secret passages. Unique sites include hidden stairways that offered secret escape routes in the Middle Ages and private rooms of Medici princes. If you want to take a secret tour, make sure to book in advance!
Any suggestions on faking your art game in Florence, Italy? Share your comments below!
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